This week, Neil Calloway can’t imagine anyone else in La La Land…
There’s a genre of fiction known as alternative history, where writers speculate on “what ifs?” of history. You want to see what would happen if South African Neo-Nazis went back in time to intervene in the American Civil War? You got it. Aliens invading during the Second World War? It’s out there. The forthcoming TV series SS-GB is one of the many “what if the Nazis won the war?” stories out there, and one imagines that J.J. Abrams’s Overlord will have some sort of alternative history elements.
There’s a similar game to be played with film casting. Christopher Walken as Han Solo (Walken as Han Solo in David Lynch’s Return of the Jedi is the movie I want to see) and OJ Simpson as The Terminator are two famous examples. This week, we saw the fallout from yet another alternative casting possibility, with news about how and why Emma Watson and Miles Teller lost out on the leads in La La Land. Read any interview with an ageing actor and they’ll reveal the roles they passed on and later regret; rarely do they mention the turkeys they turned down.
When a film is released, it’s usually hard to imagine anyone but the stars in the roles, and that is certainly the case with La La Land. Gosling and Stone are just right in the film, and imagining Watson and Teller in their place doesn’t quite fit. As when Daniel Craig was cast as Bond and people were genuinely angry about it, all those qualms melted away when Casino Royale came out.
There are other reasons why Stone and Gosling are preferable; they’re genuine stars, whereas Watson still has to have “Hermione” inserted into the middle of her name before anyone knows who she is (though Beauty and the Beast may change that), and Miles Teller is hardly well-known. “Who’s Miles Teller?” was my girlfriend’s response when I said he’d originally been lined up to play Seb in La La Land.
They haven’t got the recognition factor that Stone and Gosling have, and nor have they appeared in as many successful films. The Harry Potter movies aside, how many other Emma Watson films have you seen? How many times have you said “Hey, the new Miles Teller movie is out, let’s go and see it?” I’d bet it’s not that many. Gosling and Stone are more likely to get a movie green lit, which is more important than whether Emma Watson wants rehearsals to take place in London or not. It’s possible, of course, that Watson’s ridiculous demands were a way of ruling herself out of the film without actually saying no to the role; she was being difficult instead of being rude.
La La Land wouldn’t have had the same impact with different leads, and though the gossip and speculation is nice, I doubt the film would have got the same recognition with anyone else in the film. Speculation about casting is great fun, but rarely would the films benefit from alternatives being cast.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.